Public Schools

A Brief History of Public Education


school-310563__340Hundreds of years ago, most learning happened at home. Parents taught their children or, if their families could afford it, private tutors did the job. The Puritans were the first in this country to point out the need for some kind of public education. They established schools to teach not just the essentials-reading, writing and math- but also to reinforce their core values.

After the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson argued that the newly independent nation needed an educational system, and he suggested that tax dollars be used to fund it. His pleas were ignored, however, and the idea for a public school system languished for nearly a century.

It was not until the 1840’s that compulsory education first gained popular support. That decade an influx of Irish and German Catholic immigrants began to frighten what was then a thoroughly Protestant society. It was thought that ensuring the same education to all, devoid of religious or political influence, would best preserve the principles of American democracy (then thought to be threatened by Catholicism).


Early Years in the History of Public Schools

When the need for elementary and Latin schools was decreed in 1647 by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the schools they had in mind were a cross between public and private schools. They were public, in that they were mandated by the governing body to serve all. But they were like our current private schools in that they were meant to teach Puritan values and reading the Bible.

In 1785, the Continental Congress mandates a survey of the Northwest Territory. The survey is to create townships, with a portion of each one reserved for a school. These land grants came to be the system of public land grant universities in the years 1862 to 1890. These universities include many of those named “University of <state name>” or “<state name> State University,” such as University of Vermont and Pennsylvania State University.

In 1790, the state constitution in Pennsylvania required free public education for children in families that could not afford to pay for an education. Also concerned about the education of poor children, the New York Public School Society in 1805  set up schools that had a school master to teach the older children with a system in place for the older children to teach those who were younger.

In 1820, Boston is the site of the first public U.S. high school. And in 1827, a Massachusetts law makes all grades of public school free to all. Massachusetts innovation continues with the state’s first Board of Education formed in 1837, headed by Horace Mann. And in 1851, Massachusetts makes education compulsory.

During Reconstruction, from 1865-1877, African Americans work to encourage public education in the South. With the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, “separate but equal’ becomes an acceptable approach, not only on railroad cars, but in education, and public school are soon required by law to be racially segregated.

Vocational education is first funded when the Smith-Hughes Act passes in 1917, and by 1932, students in public schools are being slotted into multiple tracks based on the results of so-called “intelligence tests.”


In 1954, the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that segregated schools are “inherently unequal” also says that they must be abolished. There is no immediate move to do so. In 1957, when a Federal court says that public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas must be integrated, the Governor of Arkansas sends the state National Guard to prevent it. In response, President Eisenhower sends Federal troops to make sure that the court order is enforced.

The Supreme Court decision in Miliken v. Bradley in 1974-that desegregation cannot take place across school districts-creates practical limits to desegregation efforts in urban districts as well as those in wealthy suburbs. Also in 1974, District 4-the Harlem District of New York City Schools-creates an intra-district school choice program.

In the 1980s, the first charter schools are set up in Minnesota.

In 1990-91, the first voucher legislation that allows a choice of public or private secular schools is passed by the Wisconsin legislature. Also in 1991, Minnesota creates a statewide, inter-district choice system, which has spread to sixteen more states in the next decade.

In 1994, Proposition 187, which says that it is illegal for children of illegal immigrants to attend public school is passed in California. It is declared unconstitutional in Federal court.

In 1995, religious schools become an accepted alternative in Wisconsin’s school choice program, and the following year, Ohio allows vouchers to be used for religious schools.

By the 1999-2000 school year, a quarter of K-12 students are no longer attending their local neighborhood school, according to a survey conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) .



Modern-Day Teachers


1Public schools are available to everyone. Elementary schools, middle schools and high schools are funded and controlled by 3 levels of government. At the federal level it is The United States Department of Education, at the state level it is the state-level departments of education, and at the local level  it is the school district.


Teacher Salary

000The median annual Public School Teacher salary varies — the range is usually between $46,657 and $61,718. The variation factors include company size, location, years of experience, and education level.


Teacher  Responsibilities


  • Prepares lesson plans and instructs students.
  • Evaluates and monitors student’s performance.
  • Must be familiar with a variety of concepts, practices, and procedures within a particular field.
  • Must rely on experience and judgment to plan and accomplish goals.
  • May lead and direct the work of others.
  • Performs a variety of tasks.
  • Typically reports to the principal,
  • Requires a bachelor’s degree, 2-4 years of experience in the field or in a related area, and may require certification.